In this week’s issue… Good Karma rejects Emmis FM – ATSC 3 comes to NYC – Pamal adds new simulcast – Rochester vet retires – Launch, at last, for new Canadian AM – Remembering Burt Sherwood
By SCOTT FYBUSH
(Programming note: barring major breaking news, the next NERW will publish Monday, October 9.)
*What if you put a major FM signal on the market and nobody was in a position to buy it?
That’s the question that may face Emmis Communications, at least if it really hopes to get the $50 million it’s reportedly asking for WEPN-FM (98.7), one of the company’s last two remaining stations.
Since 2012, that signal has been leased out to ESPN Radio, originally to Disney itself and more recently to Good Karma Broadcasting, which acquired Disney’s ESPN Radio signals, including the WEPN-FM lease and the license of WEPN (1050), ESPN’s original New York station. And last week, Good Karma said that faced with the opportunity to either extend that lease or buy 98.7 outright, it’s choosing instead to leave FM in New York and focus its ESPN Radio efforts on the 50,000-watt AM 1050 signal and predominantly on streaming.
For Good Karma, the cost of remaining on FM in New York just wasn’t worth it – over more than a decade, ESPN and Good Karma together have paid Emmis more than $100 million to lease 98.7, considerably more than it would have cost even back in 2012 to acquire the signal outright. ESPN’s FM move prompted CBS to acquire an FM signal for WFAN (660), which kept WFAN ahead in the ratings, though ESPN’s motivation for being on New York radio has always been more about brand recognition than ratings.
And while being on FM brought WEPN play-by-play rights for the Jets, Knicks and Rangers, that’s also never been a huge part of Good Karma’s business plan, which is why it’s prepared to leave FM when its lease ends on August 31, 2024.
We know half of the “what’s next”: ESPN New York will continue to air on 1050 AM and, more importantly, on digital platforms, retaining at least some of its local programming including afternoon star Michael Kay. (And will New Yorkers miss the national ESPN programming that’s currently heard on 1050? It’s unlikely.)
What about Emmis, though? Its sale of 98.7, along with WLIB (1190), which currently airs completely automated gospel programming, comes at a less-than-auspicious moment. There was certainly a time when $50 million would have been a reasonable price for 98.7, now one of just fifteen class B commercial signals that serve the whole New York market from the Empire State Building – but many of the players who would have been eager buyers aren’t in the market right now.
Even if Audacy weren’t battling its own severe financial problems, it’s already at its cap of five FM signals in New York (WFAN and three other Empire FMs, plus WXBK 94.7 in New Jersey) and can’t add more. iHeart is also out of the picture, with its five Empire FMs. EMF, which long craved entry into the market, got there in 2019 with its purchase of WPLJ (95.5) from Cumulus.
Who’s left? SBS, which has two Empire FMs (WPAT-FM 93.1 and WSKQ 97.9), is having its own issues with the collapse of a deal to sell its TV stations. Univision (WXNY 96.3) has also been selling, rather than buying.
That leaves MediaCo, whose WQHT (97.1) and WBLS (107.5) were once sister stations to 98.7 when it was “Kiss” WRKS. Would it have a place for a third FM – and could a revived Kiss 98.7 find a niche separate from WBLS, which absorbed some Kiss programming?
Any other potential buyer would face even bigger challenges as a single FM operator in a cluster market. Would John Catsimatidis want to shell out for an FM companion to his WABC (770), perhaps to expand the music programming WABC now runs on weekends? At $50 million (or even a more realistic $30-35 million), that would be an expensive vanity project even for “Cats.” And it’s a big price tag to swallow for suburban operators such as Press and Connoisseur that might want a New York toehold.
A lot can change in almost a month, of course, and we’ll be watching closely as Emmis looks for a buyer who’s both willing and able to meet its price.
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND….
It’s the annual Tower Site Calendar!
This is the 23rd edition of our popular wall calendar, featuring gorgeous full-color photos of tower and transmitter sites from around the country, and sometimes the world. Our photos capture the sites throughout the day and throughout the year.
This makes a great gift for the tower enthusiast in your life — or a special treat for yourself!
Because it’s not yet off the press, we’re offering a pre-production price of $20. Once the calendar is printed, the price will go up to our regular price of $21.
Don’t wait – order yours today!
We have the Radio Historian’s Calendar again this year, too. There are only 25 in stock and they sell fast, so don’t wait to order.